Violent extremism: What HEI faculty is thinking & why it matters


It is an established fact that values and ideologies of the teachers significantly influence the students, as role models or influence student’ behaviours through their attitude. Pakistan being the fulcrum of ‘war on terror’ has suffered an estimated 118 billion $ loss in just 15 years after 9/11. Our educational institutions were targeted, instilling fear & terror. Sun Tzu rightly said that terrorism ends one life and frightens thousands, it’s a psychological war for political and power objectives. The blame for worldwide terrorist activities is often put on Islamic ideologies but researchers contend that at the heart of it the attacks were carried out with social & political motives. 
It is surprising that still terrorism lacks any unified definition, with no national narrative for Violent Extremism (VE). VE is still synonymous with Religious Extremism, whereas the former is shaped by economic marginalization, religiosity and psychological factors. The GoP launched ‘National Action Plan’ after APS attacks, but Countering & Preventing Violent Extremist (C/PVE) has been marred by many factors including ineffective Govt policies and its inefficient scattered approach. The factors that hamper C/PVE efforts also arise from political intolerance, sectarian sentimentalism, extremist ideologies, economic disparities & popularization of conspiracy theories. Sadly, VE has permeated Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) as well, yet there are no tangible efforts by HEC for C/PVE. Whereas it has been highlighted in previous research, having faculty’s involvement in projecting extremist ideologies, as well as being aware of activities and not reporting/ mitigating it.
The indigenous research on Violent Extremist (VE) tendencies of faculty in HEI in twin cities revealed some astonishing facts. For instance, 1/3rd faculty members had VE tendencies. Still when faculty is hired in Pakistani universities, there is hardly screening for VE tendencies, with no Training need Assessment (TNA) carried out for capacity building. There was no difference in gender or age for the faculty who had VE tendencies. Furthermore, it was revealed that the faculty lacked ability to adequately address the sensitive topics pertaining to religious extremist, polarized political populist ideologies and conspiracy theories of social order arising in the classrooms. Many teachers use avoidant strategy and not even report the VE elements or grouping of rogue elements as they lack trainings to handle such issues. There is no policy guideline for such trainings as mandatory by HEC, and no university has very clear action plans for C/ PVE in Pakistan.
There is a significant link between lower EQ and extremism and violent risk ideation much research elucidates training of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) as a PVE measure. Yet there are not any programs in HEIs to develop EQ of faculty and students. There are many factors that are attributed to students’ inclining towards violent ideologies, mainly the economic disparities arising from social class, unfair treatment, lack of employment opportunities and exploitation of wages for new entrants, this is further intensified with radical religious ideologies, political exploitations through hate mongering of elite & establishment. Social problems are socially constructed; therefore, faculty perceptions also have the potential to normalise VE as a form of fight for their social justice.
The book Policy perspective on countering violent extremism in Pakistan by SDPI (2021) Chap 5, suggests a national narrative of extremism as, ‘Enforcement and execution of extreme ideologies pertaining to political, religious and social domains, and having a devastating impact on people and communities through violation of human rights, disturbing peace & day to day norms’ & PVE as, ‘Hard measures to stop terrorism through strict anti-terror laws and law enforcement. Soft measures to develop empathy and tolerance, especially religious tolerance. Having systems in place to curb radicalization, violence and extremism. Maintaining peace and upholding human rights through prompt justice’. There are many steps that can be taken to alleviate VE, starting from a national narrative adopted by HEIs to promulgate C/ PVE. There should be screening for VE while faculty hiring & student admissions, capacity building of faculty/ staff and students for developing resilience and EQ and identification mitigation extremist tendencies through educational programmes and counselling.  
It is imperative to understand that extremist agenda and psychological oppression is permeated in the society and HEIs are not any different. Government efforts for C/ PVE were mostly military focused. The emergence of political intolerance and recent attacks on military installations should be an eye opener to use educational programs to guide youth to become law abiding peaceful citizens, and to voice concerns without violence. To train youth we need competent faculty that has the capacity to be a role model and guide them. But in the absence of national narrative on PVE or even Extremism, and lack of any capacity building for faculty to curb and pacify VE, and universities’ lack of any tangible action plan as a statutory requirement for PVE, this rise of extremist ideologies is a ticking bomb.

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